Two Views of Congestion Pricing

Gumby Fresh

has an interesting twist on congestion pricing today, riffing off a NYT article

about subway

congestion. The question: Does subway congestion make congestion pricing

more problematic, or does it, on the other hand, make congestion pricing more


The first view is encapsulated in the article, and it basically boils down

to this:

Congestion pricing involves moving the public from cars and onto public


But the subway system is already running at capacity.

Therefore, congestion pricing has big problems.

That’s not how Gumby sees it, however. In fact, he says,

Congestion pricing, as it developed in London, though less so in Singapore,

starts with the assumption that large and mature cities have very little room

to expand their subway/rail/light rail systems.

Congestion pricing, on this view, is an attempt to get people out of the subway,

and onto buses. But no one is going to take the bus if the roads are ridiculously

congested. So you need to clear up space on the roads, by charging cars to enter

the congested zones. Think of it like this:

The subway system is running at capacity.

To reduce the strain on the subways, bus ridership will have to go up.

But buses are dreadful, because of congestion.

So we have to implement congestion pricing to reduce congestion and increase

bus ridership.

It has worked in London, but I have to admit that it’s going to be harder to

make it work in New York. One important reason why is that New York sets the

fare for a bus ride at exactly the same as the fare for a subway ride. That

gives no incentive at all to move from the subways to the buses: either bus

fares need to come down, or subway fares need to go up. And then, of course,

the number of buses on any given route has to increase substantially, so that

buses arrive at least as frequently as subways.

All you need then is a good network of bus lanes, a substantial reduction in

Manhattan traffic, and a wholesale change in public attitudes towards riding

the bus. Easy!

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